Amish Septic Tank Issue

Following a look at a zoning conflict in one Amish settlement, a different sort of building issue in Minnesota has one couple banned from their new home.

You may have noticed that some Amish seem to have recurring problems with the law, over issues such as safety triangles on buggies, or building requirements for their homes.

These are typically the most traditional Amish, like those who live in the Swartzentruber Amish community of Harmony, Minnesota (Fillmore County).

Ammon and Sarah Swartzentruber of Harmony were issued with citations back in June, for building a new home without a permit. Why no permit?

Swartzentruber said he didn’t go through with the permit because an ordinance included in it requires the homeowners to build a septic system if running water is used indoors. According to Swartzentruber and his father, Jacob, the sewer system is considered a modern day convenience that Amish do not believe in utilizing in their lifestyles.

“Our group doesn’t believe in changes like going more modern or changes like that,” said Ammon.

Defendant Ammon Swartzentruber

Later it was claimed they continued to work on the new home, in violation of the judge’s conditions. The couple say that friends and family actually did the work, to enclose it for protection against the cold.

They have been ordered not to come within five feet of the home. The couple has had a trial date set for January 8th.

When I first read about this story, I wondered why Ammon and Sarah are suddenly out in the spotlight here.

After all, Harmony is the state’s largest community, has been there since the mid-1970s, and I’d estimate has something like 150-200 Amish households. Are they the only ones who’ve balked at the permit?

Also, these types of conflicts are more understandable in places where Amish have recently established themselves…not as much in older communities where there is a working relationship between Amish and authorities.

The reason? Apparently, previous building permit applications simply did not include the particular ordinance.

Amish Court Visit

The county adopted new sub-surfaces sewage ordinances in December 2013, though somewhat confusingly, the Count Attorney “said there’s always been a requirement that rural homes not receiving city water and sewage build an approved septic system.”

The video below gives you a look at the current home of Ammon and Sarah Swartzentruber, and the new one they’re no longer supposed to touch, just feet away.

KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Compromise…or relocate?

Swartzentruber Amish are among the most traditional of all Amish. It’s one of their defining characteristics. They’re about the least likely of all Amish to bend when it comes to adopting changes imposed from outside.

Likewise, this is not the first time Amish from the plainer sects have had issues with building mandates. To take one example, Swartzentruber Amish in New York rejected a requirement to install smoke detectors in their homes in order to pass building codes. “I don’t need a devil on the wall to tell me if my house is burning” said one of the men.

District Court Fillmore County

In that case, the two sides reached a clever resolution. As described in reports at the time: “The town’s code inspector will install detectors before giving homes a final approval, but whether they remain is up to the homeowners, as it is in any home.”

It remains to be seen if some sort of compromise is in the mix here. As recently as a few years ago, the Harmony community had a total of seven church districts. However, for whatever reason, as of 2013 it had dropped to six.

If septic systems become a real requirement for Amish homes in Fillmore County, that number may continue to decline.